Government

Emotions run high during Sen. Chuck Grassley's 99-county tour finale

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, answers a question during a town hall meeting at the Clarke County Hospital’s administrative building in Osceola on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. (Erin Murphy/The Gazette)
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, answers a question during a town hall meeting at the Clarke County Hospital’s administrative building in Osceola on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. (Erin Murphy/The Gazette)

OSCEOLA — The annual 99-county tour concluded with some fireworks.

Not the celebratory kind; the angry, partisan political kind.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa’s longtime Republican U.S. senator, completed his 38th annual every-county tour of Iowa on Monday afternoon with a town hall meeting at the Clarke County Hospital’s administrative building.

Roughly 200 people attended the hourlong, public question-and-answer event, which was littered with frequent fits of people attempting to speak over each other.

Emotions frequently ran high, particularly when people asked Grassley about U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, health care or President Donald Trump.

“This isn’t a very typical meeting compared to the meetings I have, even other open town (hall) meetings. Maybe because it was a small room. But it wasn’t typical,” Grassley told reporters after the event. “Most of (the town hall meetings), people want to just discuss things.”

Grassley frequently had to pause while people in the emotionally charged crowd — many of whom were involved with liberal or conservative advocacy groups — argued with each other at the same time others asked questions or made statements.

“The only thing that went on here, I just would like when people ask a question, let them ask the question. If they want to make a statement, let them make a statement. And then let me answer,” Grassley said. “That’s the only thing that bothers me.”

Grassley said raucous town halls like this one are not necessarily a new phenomenon. He said crowds were similarly charged during the health care debates in 2009 and 2010, and during a separate health care debate in the late 1990s.

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Speakers at Monday’s even conversely expressed support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation and calls for Grassley to stall the nomination. Grassley is chairman of the Senate’s judiciary committee, which overseas federal judicial confirmation hearings. The committee hearings for Kavanaugh’s nomination were held last week.

Grassley said Monday that he has no plan to slow the process or vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation, which Grassley said could be on the Senate agenda by next week and up for a Senate vote by the end of the month.

Multiple speakers at Monday’s town hall said they support Kavanaugh’s nomination and Grassley’s stewardship of the process, while others claimed unfair treatment after Republicans refused to hear President Barack Obama’s nominee in 2016, and because liberal groups have raised the possibility that Kavanaugh in 2006 misled a Senate committee about his knowledge of a post-9/11 surveillance program implemented by former President George W. Bush.

Grassley said if Kavanaugh committed perjury, that would be an issue for the executive branch to handle.

“That’s an executive branch decision to prosecute somebody, just like (special counsel Robert Mueller) is prosecuting three or four people for lying,” Grassley said.

Grassley after the event said he is confident the nation will eventually heal from any political wounds caused by recent political battles over federal court nominations, including Democrats’ move to lower the approval threshold from 60 to a 51-vote majority, Republicans’ stonewalling of Obama’s nominee and the current nomination battle.

“They’ll heal,” Grassley said. “Everything heals with time. Even death heals with time.”

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